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Less Than Loved Ones---Hopes and Dreams
by Russell Friedman & John W. James of The Grief Recovery Institute
In the previous article "Killer Clichés About Loss" we talked about grieving and completing our relationships with loved ones who have died. While the death of a loved one is painful, we are often complete with loved ones. That is to say that we have communicated our feelings about them, to them. We believe that they knew how we felt and that we were understood. When a loved one dies we may be overwhelmed with conflicting feelings, we may feel disoriented and confused, and we may feel robbed of one last chance to say "I love you" and "goodbye." Even though we are often essentially complete when a loved one dies, after the death we usually remember some things that we wish we'd had a chance to say. We need to discover those unsaid things and say them. The appropriate methods for communicating the unsaid things are detailed in The Grief Recovery Handbook.
What happens when a "less than loved one" dies? Perhaps a parent or a sibling, someone with whom we should have had a more loving relationship. We are almost always incomplete when a "less than loved one" dies. Almost always we are left with the awareness that our hopes and dreams of someday having the relationship be pleasant and happy have ended. Even if our hope is simply not to be tormented anymore, the death often exaggerates the torment rather than diminishing it. That is when many of us report being "ruled from the grave."
Many people labor under the misapprehension that once someone has died there is no way they can complete any unfinished emotional business. Happily, this is not true, or they would have to stay incomplete forever. The process of Grief Recovery® helps grievers identify and complete the undelivered emotional communications that keep them tied to past painful experiences with people who have died or with relationships that have ended or changed. This process obviously does not require that the person we are incomplete with be a living or willing participant.
Often our attempts to communicate with our "less than loved ones" failed, not because of our unwillingness, but because the other person was unable to listen to or talk about the things that we wanted and needed to talk about. Quite often our attempts to communicate started new and larger battles which may have been added to our list of unfinished or incomplete emotional events with them. Even after they have died, as we replay the events, we keep winding up hurt and helpless. We do not know how to end the vicious cycle. We may attempt to not think about them, but then a reminder will appear, outside of our control. We may see someone in the mall who looks like them, or a car similar to the one they drove. These reminders will often send us back into the pain caused by the incomplete emotional relationship. Most of you will realize that it is not possible to eliminate someone from your memory. You most assuredly cannot control the stimuli that cause you to remember a less than loved one. Even attempts at total isolation rarely work, as even dreams can rekindle painful memories.
When a "less than loved one" dies we are often left with an extremely lopsided memory picture, almost exclusively negative. It seems as if we are the victim of these painful, negative memory pictures. We are also confused by our relationship to the painful memories that keep recurring. We must grieve and complete our relationship to the person as well as to our relationship with the pain we generate when we think about or are reminded of the person. And, we must grieve and complete our unmet hopes and dreams and expectations.
You must become willing to re-experience some of the painful events, and finally communicate what you would have said had you been allowed to, or if you had known how. It may seem frightening to root around where there has been so much pain. Perhaps it would be more helpful to be frightened of the alternative, a life of restriction and limitation caused by staying incomplete. The alternative of keeping the pain forever, of trying not to remember, of trying to avoid any circumstances or events that remind you of that person.
QUESTION: The above article relates to a "less than loved one" who has died. What about "less than loved ones" who are still living ?
ANSWER: Exactly the same principles apply when the "less than loved one" is still living. In fact, it is probably even more essential that you complete your part of that relationship as soon as you can. If not, you may live in constant fear of any kind of interaction with or reminder of that living person. Completion of your part of a relationship with a living person does not imply that the other person will or should change. Most likely they will continue to be just who and how they are. The difference is that you will be able to live a life of meaning and value, not limited by painful reminders of a relationship that did not live up to hopes, promises, dreams or expectations.
© 2002 Russell P. Friedman, John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute.
All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles
please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at Editor@grief.net or by phone
USA (818) 907-9600 Canada (519) 586-8825